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Goodnight Mister Tom - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 2nd Mar 2016 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

Reviewed by Alison Smith 1st March 2016

Mister Tom promo poster

The portrayal of child cruelty in Michelle Magorian’s 1981 novel, Goodnight Mister Tom, is, heartrendingly, still relevant in 2016; but in the portrayal of an old man’s love for a battered child  we are shown the positive side of humanity, the resilience of human beings and the value of love. Although the story has a traditional happy ending, issues such as bullying, mental illness and death are dealt with unsentimentally.

The story is set in the years of World War II. William, an evacuee from Deptford, East London, is placed in Dorset in the home of unsociable Tom Oakley, an elderly widower, whose wife and infant son had tragically died 40 years previously. Tom, or Mister Tom as William calls him, is taciturn and antisocial.  The arrival of William, bruised physically and mentally, a boy scared of his own shadow, who quails at the sight of Sammy the sheepdog, awakens in Tom feelings of kindness and altruism. In the old man’s gentle care William blossoms; he learns to trust, he makes friends ( Zach, played by Sonny Kirby is confident and extrovert,  a future entertainer, and a most unlikely friend for William)  and  from such human closeness and through the knowledge that he able to learn and, more importantly, that he is  valued, William’s self- esteem rises. This happy, rural idyll is shattered when William’s mother demands his return. The poverty and misery of William’s London life with his religious fanatic of a mother are heart- breaking; the woman is a hypocrite – she follows the bible strictly yet she has had a daughter and there seems to be no husband. She leaves the children locked up and the baby dies of starvation. Tom, sensing the situation is dire, goes to London and against ‘the regulations’ kidnaps William and eventually adopts him.

The production, an adaptation by David Wood and directed by Angus Jackson is spell binding. Tom, played by David Troughton captivates from the outset. His goodness and gentleness are apparent. William, Joe Reynolds on the evening I saw the play, transforms seamlessly from frail waif to independent boy. Zach’s character captivates with humour, singing and dancing (although he can be somewhat annoying!)  And Sammy the dog, controlled skilfully and charmingly, by Elisa de Grey, adds a touch of canine humour to the story. The stage setting is simple; apple boxes, chairs, an  easel  and a bicycle are the main props.  The 1940’s atmosphere is obtained from posters advertising rationing and Dorset, from the songs made famous by Gracie Fields, and from the girls’ games and plaits.  But it is through the relationships of the main characters that we realise the impact war can have on children and in Goodnight Mr Tom the impact of war on one child in particular.

At MK Theatre until Sat 5th March

0844 871 7652

Booking fee applies


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 2 years ago
    Thanks, Alison. A lovely review.
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